Training

Become a Better Partner: Tips for Women

Students at Walnut Hill

From their first moments in the studio, female ballet dancers are taught to hold themselves upright and control each movement of their body with intense precision. Yet in partnering, these rules of independent practice are challenged. Sasha Janes, Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music faculty member and partnering coach, offers some tips for how female dancers can navigate this change in approach.

(For tips for male ballet dancers, click here.)


Develop Trust

Boston Ballet's Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili, photo by Rosalie O'Connor

There are times when you must turn all your body weight over to your partner and allow their performance to determine your performance. Just as in solo work, there are steps that cannot be executed without complete tenacious commitment. Be prepared to fall into or away from your partner with full energy. Trust is built through rehearsal and an achievable shared goal. If a step in partnering is done with half confidence, your partner will not be able to feel your intention and there is little hope for success.

Be Empathetic

Houston Ballet's Connor Walsh and Karina Gonzalez, photo by Kate Longley

You have trained for years how to successfully move your body through space, so you understand the mechanics of the ballet body. Know where your partner's weight needs to be for a given step or transition, and be prepared to allow him to move into that space—a good partnership should make life easier, not harder.

Communicate Regularly

American Ballet Theatre's Hee Seo and Marcelo Gomes, photo by Kyle Froman

Speak to each other often. Oftentimes women fear that if we speak up or admit to being uncomfortable, we will be perceived as a "bad partner." The exact opposite is true. If a step isn't working, never be afraid to talk about it. If you let an issue go, it festers and can affect the chemistry and confidence of the partnership onstage.

Build Strength

San Francisco Ballet's Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada, photo by Erik Tomasson

Upper body and back strength is imperative. The time of the waifish ballerina is over. Women must have the ability to lift and be a counterweight. The stronger you are, the more versatile your movement and the pictures you can create with your partner become.

Match His Energy

Jock Soto teaching at SAB. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor

For every push, there should be an equal and opposite push. Perhaps your inclination when you feel a hand pushing you is to allow your body to follow that partner's direction. However, there are very clear times when a step in partnering requires the female dancer to give equal resistance to her male counterpart. Hands touching are a unique mechanism sending for messages about balance between bodies. Whether you are executing a classical ballet penché with one arm or an off-balance arabesque in a pas by Jiri Kylian, you must feel and match your partner's energy to find stability.

Have Patience

Thinkstock

You can't make the next step happen alone; it has to be a joint effort. Partnering is a conversation; always wait to see what your partner "says" to you, then respond with your natural movement. No matter how much you want to control things, wait for your partner. If the woman's body weight transfers before the man has begun his motion to partner, the fluidity is disturbed and the natural rhythm of the step is lost. There is also inevitably a visually jarring bobble that takes the audience out of the piece. No one wants that.

Be Honest About Body Placement

The Joffrey's Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez, photo by Cheryl Mann

Sometimes, in rehearsal, you have to fall—give yourself over to the failure. Nothing is gained by faking a success in the early stages of a pas rehearsal period. This is especially true for women. If you are not on your leg, don't hold yourself. Your partner will learn faster if you are honest in your execution. In a pirouette, go for it and turn in an honest, dependable position—an accidental knee hit will only happen once, so apologize and move forward.

Be Respectful

School of Richmond Ballet

No matter what, you must address each other with the utmost respect. Whether you just met your partner, live with him or have been friends with him for years, never let your relationship outside the studio affect the way your work together professionally. You will never achieve success if you are just finding fault in each other, and choreographers will not want to work with you if outside baggage is junking up the studio space. Both of you are performing onstage—not one or the other. Be there for each other.

Breaking Stereotypes
Getty Images

As a dietitian specializing in dance nutrition, the most common DM flooding my inbox is "How can I drop pounds (specifically from body fat) and gain muscle?"

The short answer? Not happening.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Chantelle Pianetta competing at a West Coast swing event. Courtesy Pianetta.

Just hearing the word "improvisation" is enough to make some ballet dancers shake in their pointe shoes. But for Chantelle Pianetta, it's a practice she relishes. Depending on the weekend, you might find her gracing Bay Area stages as a principal with Menlowe Ballet or sweeping in awards at West Coast swing competitions.

She specializes in Jack and Jill events, which involve improvised swing dancing with an unexpected partner in front of a panel of judges. (Check her out in action below.) While sustaining her ballet career, over the past four years Pianetta has quickly risen from novice to champion level on the WCS international competition circuit.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Jayme Thornton

Sean Dorsey was always going to be an activist. Growing up in a politically engaged, progressive family in Vancouver, British Columbia, "it was my heart's desire to create change in the world," he says. Far less certain was his future as a dancer.

Like many dancers, Dorsey fell in love with movement as a toddler. However, he didn't identify strongly with any particular gender growing up. Dorsey, who now identifies as trans, says, "I didn't see a single person like me anywhere in the modern dance world." The lack of trans role models and teachers, let alone all-gender studio facilities where he could feel safe and welcome, "meant that even in my wildest dreams, there was no room for that possibility."

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Getty Images

It's hour three of an intense rehearsal, you're feeling mentally foggy and exhausted, and your stomach hurts. Did you know the culprit could be something as simple as dehydration?

Proper hydration helps maintain physical and mental function while you're dancing, and keeps your energy levels high. But with so many products on the market promising to help you rehydrate more effectively, how do you know when it's time to reach for more than water?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox